On this day…3 September

On 3 September 1987 John Huston’s film The Dead premiered.

The Dead, based on Joyce’s story, was Huston’s last film. Something of a family affair, it starred his daughter Anjelica Huston, and the script was written by his son Tony. Eighty years after Joyce wrote the story, the film premiered on 3 September 1987 at the forty-fourth Venice Film Festival, less than a week after Huston’s death.

The film was made in studios at Valencia, Los Angeles, and on location in Dublin. According to Tony Huston, exact measurements of the original house at 15 Usher’s Island were taken so that it and the Liffey quay outside could be reproduced faithfully in Los Angeles. Props (many of them original Victorian pieces rather than reproductions) were sourced in Dublin and flown to Los Angeles to decorate the sets.

Despite this level of authenticity, the script took several liberties with Joyce’s story, most notably with the addition of Mr Grace and his recitation of the poem ‘Donal Óg’ by Lady Gregory. Other liberties include a much more slapstick comic role for Freddy Malins, and additions to Miss Ivors’ reasons for leaving the party. The film also sets the action on the Feast of the Epiphany, whereas Joyce’s story avoids stating the exact date of the party.

Among those taking the main roles in the film, Huston’s daughter Anjelica played the role of Gretta Conroy, Donal McCann played Gabriel Conroy, Helena Carroll played Aunt Kate, Cathleen Delaney played Aunt Julia, Marie Kean played Mrs Malins, and Donal Donnelly played Freddy Malins. Tenor Frank Patterson played Bartell D’Arcy and his wife, Eily O’Grady, was piano coach. Clive Hart acted as literary advisor on behalf of the Joyce Estate, and later wrote an account of the making of the film.

Born in 1905, Huston made his directing debut with The Maltese Falcon in 1941. He went on to direct 37 films in total, including classics such as Key Largo (1948), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), Moby Dick (1956), The Misfits (1961), The Night of the Iguana (1964), a Prizzi’s Honour (1985). He received fifteen Oscar nominations during his career and won two.

The Dead was his last film. Suffering from emphysema, he directed from a wheelchair and was hooked up to an oxygen supply throughout. Shooting on the film began in January 1987 and was completed by April.  Huston died on 28 August 1987, less than a week before the film had its premiere.

Lilyan Sievernich directed a documentary, John Huston and The Dubliners (1987), that follows the production of Huston’s film.


Sources & Further Reading:

Barry, Kevin: The Dead, Ireland into Film Series – Cork University Press in association with the Film Institute of Ireland, Cork: Cork University Press, 2001.

Hart, Clive: Joyce, Huston, and the Making of the Dead, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1988.